Paranormal Activity – After moving into a suburban home, a couple becomes increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence.
Paranormal Activity 2 – After experiencing what they think are a series of “break-ins”, a family sets up security cameras around their home, only to realize that the events unfolding before them are more sinister than they seem.
Paranormal Activity 3 – In 1988, young sisters Katie and Kristi befriend an invisible entity who resides in their home.
Paranormal Activity 4 – It has been five years since the disappearance of Katie and Hunter, and a suburban family witness strange events in their neighbourhood when a woman and a mysterious child move in.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones – When a young man becomes the target of a malevolent entity, he must uncover its true intentions before it takes complete control of him.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension – Using a special camera that can see spirits, a family must protect their daughter from an evil entity with a sinister plan.
Amelia: Oh Paranormal Activity, where do we begin? I was interested in the first movie because it was another one of those low-budget horror movies that went huge and everyone was talking about it. So I saw the first one and… wasn’t impressed. A single camera and nothing more than doors moving seemed to happen. Not what I expected from this horror sensation literally everyone was so enthralled with. And then the second one came out and I stupidly saw it too. And then a third one appeared, and I can’t believe it, but I saw it too! Still not impressed. This will be the first time I see four through six but I have a feeling I’m not going to be impressed… that I’ll never be impressed…
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the first one. Actually, let’s just talk about one thing in the first one: Micah.
The biggest problem in this movie, the problem that everyone has, is Micah. Fuck that guy, am I right? This toxic masculinity garbage about it being ‘his house and his girlfriend’ and therefore he’s totally qualified to deal with a demon? If Katie needed brain surgery would he be like ‘this is my house and my girlfriend and I can deal with it’ because his fragile ego couldn’t bear the thought of someone else doing a highly specialized task? A demon needs to be dealt with. You can’t do that on your own anymore than brain surgery Micah, so swallow your tiny-penis shame and call the demonologist!
Billy: Uhg. Micah. I hate him. I hate him. I hate him. I’m sorry, but if this was the only movie in the franchise, it wouldn’t even be worth watching because of this privileged, masculinity-driven little prick. Seriously. Everything in this movie could be avoided if it wasn’t for his constant need to do whatever the hell he wants and give no regard for the concern or consent of those he supposedly loves. I hate the way he gets around rules like not buying a Ouiji board. Not only does it end up killing him, but it arguably sets in motion events that screw over everyone in the following films. Not cool, bro.
I mean, okay. This film is where it started, so I suppose it deserves a little credit. The sequence of Katie standing over the bed for hours of sped-up camera footage is still creepy as hell, but it’s the lack of action that really makes me wish we gave this movie a pass. Even Blair Witch Project continually kept the story going forward through character development and realization. Paranormal Activity holds too much back for too long, to the point where only the last five minutes really matter. In the end, it’s a low budget idea that obviously worked to dredge up some form of fear in the American psyche and it set up the franchise staple of absolutely sticking the landing in the final five minutes of the film. So there’s that. But the later films did way more.
Amelia: There’s absolutely nothing different in Paranormal Activity 2 from the last movie. Same story, same character models, same camera shots, same “scares”. Paranormal Activity 2 continues on the trend of annoying men not believing their wives and instead mocking them. Here’s the whole movie summed up through the father’s perspective:
“Oh look, there’s evidence of something otherworldly happening on the cameras I insist be on at all times but instead of believing it and my loved ones, I’m going to raise my voice at my wife and daughter to stop talking about ghosts and fire the nanny who was trying to help me because I’m a big manly man that doesn’t believe in anything other than the power of my penis! I think I’ll jerk it a little more in my self righteousness!”
I think I hate this asshole more than I hated Micah. And when his neck got snapped, I fucking cheered for his death!
Billy: I rank this movie around the same place as I do the first one, though maybe only a bit higher because I enjoy the pool cleaner robot. It suffers the same problems as the first film, with unlikeable characters and scenes that just don’t mean anything in the long run. The idea of sort of side-stepping the original film, making it both a prequel and a midquel rather than the sequel we were expecting, was a really good move that opened the franchise up to all the corners of time and space that it ended up exploring, but it ends up being too much like the first film in terms of content. Empty content. And I mean, it’s a stretch to believe that this family set up cameras everywhere. In my opinion at least. Looking back, this is probably the film I have the most lukewarm feelings for in the series. I hope the third one gives us a little more to care about.
Amelia: OH MY GOD I DON’T CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS!!! Why are there scenes between the mom and boyfriend about smoking pot and having sex? It isn’t character development it’s just awkward and annoying. Although I will hand it to him for being the first male character in this series that isn’t a total jagoff! He’s the one that’s proactive about the whole situation but now the mother is the disbelieving one. They didn’t evolve the characters or dynamic so much as flip it.
This series literally just does the same stuff as the two movies that came before it, right down to the banal everyday activities like teeth brushing. It always happens at the same time in the narrative while characters have the same discussion about the cameras being set up. Watching these all back to back to really see how much each movie steps on its predecessor’s toes. Maybe you wouldn’t notice watching them once in theatres when they come out, but it’s so clear in a marathon and it’s tedious to say the least.
Billy: Here’s the thing that Paranormal Activity 3 did better than any of the other movies: likeable characters. Or character, at least. Dennis is someone I didn’t want to see horribly murdered by demons, so that’s something. I still didn’t like most of the family, but for the first time the ending really takes us forward and gives us some lore to build off of that would keep the series going from this point on. I think because the ends of the last film were both “Oh, here’s one neat thing that happened” and the latter films give you a whole bunch of neat things. Like, it’s at least worth your time.
Amelia: This movie right here, this was an entertaining Paranormal Activity movie! It’s finally not totally centred on this one asshole family and changes up the formula enough for me to give a shit. I like that these unrelated people have just been thrust into this spooky witch/demon shit due to circumstance. Though you probably shouldn’t build your film franchise to start getting good at the fourth one. I’m just saying.
What I really liked about Paranormal Activity 4 are to two main characters Alex and Ben. They’ve got a good girl/boy teen friendship and Ben is probably the best actor that the series has yet to have. His delivery of the line “there’s a boy in your castle” is great. And really that line out of context is pretty great too. There’s also some humour in this (and later) entries in the series. That’s really what was needed. There’s only so much stoic seriousness or (even worse) failed attempts at levity that one can bear. Two was especially bad. I think the father was supposed to be a little-hearted jokester but the actor and/or script failed to show it beyond a few failed attempts.
Billy: I can’t believe we’re saying this, but Paranormal Activity 4 was pretty damn great. It’s my favourite film of the franchise. I will take the fourth, fifth, and sixth iterations of this franchise over the first, second, and third any day of the week. Not only do you get likeable characters in the two teens, but… it kind of plays like a love story? I don’t know if it was supposed to make me feel this way, but I shipped these kids hard. It also presented the found footage in a completely different way. Rather than static cameras set up in rooms, it’s characters who are naturally filming everything taking advantage of that with cell phones and Skype calls.This means camera movement that’s more than the left to right panning in Paranormal Activity 3 or the zero panning of 1 & 2. It means a constant face on screen to react to, and a more real, human presence.
The actual story in this movie is fulfilling all the way through. The twist that Wyatt is Hunter, not the weird neighbor kid, is so good. It actually surprised me and made me rethink what I had seen. Totally shows nurture over nature for how damn creepy that kid is.
And Jesus Christ. Let me tell you about the ending. It does not disappoint. Where before you might get an implied death or a quick demonic possession, Paranormal Activity 4 instead sees the demon go to town before Alex runs out of the house to find herself face-to-face with what looks like HUNDREDS of witches. The screen is filled with completely evil, fearsome, deadly women. It’s an escalation of scale that you’re taken aback by as it comes out of nowhere, but is also totally fitting with the tone of the film and the way the franchise has unfolded so far. This is legitimately the best moment in the Paranormal Activity franchise. I got a jump scare earlier in the film from a soft-spoken “Hello” that I’m a little embarrassed to admit. This was a total WHAM moment that actually made the whole film worth it.
Amelia: First things first, am I the only one upset that this movie’s poster doesn’t match the other five?! I can’t possibly be the only one upset about that! Did they do this on purpose? To taunt me?! MONSTERS!
I’m conflicted about this movie. I liked the angle of following boys that had been marked by the demon that were unrelated to the family at the centre of all this and I liked that there isn’t a white person to be found in the main narrative. Centring this movie on a Mexican neighbourhood brought such a breath of fresh air to the series. What I’m conflicted with is the way this story just tells us the same things the last four did and the fact that the constant shaky cam (because there aren’t any nights here) gave me a headache that followed me through movie six and my night’s sleep. I still have it now, the day after watching it. So I’m not going to suggest it if you’re prone to headaches like I am.
But getting back to the story, it’s the same thing again with different packaging. I don’t think anything new has been learned about the coven or the demon since Paranormal Activity 2. We learned that boys are taken in two and we learned about ‘Toby’ in three. The last three movies in the series are these exact same things just shuffled ever so slightly. And the most insulting thing is that these movies present this rehashed information in a way that’s supposed to trick you into thinking it’s new. But it’s not and that is so, so clear when you marathon the series! Honestly, I think The Marked Ones would have worked as an unrelated horror movie about a Mexican family dealing with a witch. Just make that movie!
Billy: Wikipedia describes Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones as a “cousin” or “ese” to the main franchise, and WOW. Seriously, Wikipedia? Kinda racist there. Cousin was just fine. I get that this was the Paranormal Activity aimed at the latino market, but you don’t have to call it out like that! The fact that we’re finally getting away from the original family is terrific. And it makes sense following the escalation of scale we got at the end of four. This coven needs be far reaching, and we need to see that from the outside. New angles, new perspective. This movie does some fun things. It’s also incredibly nice to get some protagonists who don’t live in a mansion. I don’t know about you, but as someone living in a one bedroom apartment, it feels a lot more real to me.
In the third act of The Marked Ones, we actually see a full on adult possession when Jesse goes full-demon on his friends. Rather than a final moment of action like the other five films, we actually get an entire climactic sequence, and then a final WHAM moment at the end. Damn, that ending, They really ramped up the stakes from the heights they reached in Paranormal Activity 4. Time travel!? It honestly blew my mind, and bringing things back around to the events of the first movie was just icing on the cake.
Amelia: Fun fact, in Paranormal Activity 6 it’s revealed that Hunter and Leela (two creepy children from the series) were both born on June 6th, 2005. That’s the six day of the sixth month of the six year. Coincidentally, my little brother Carter, who I always attested was the Antichrist, was also born on June 6th, 2005. In this movie, I literally had a priest confirm that he’s evil…
I FUCKING CALLED IT, MA! FUCKING CALLED IT!
Now, besides this movie confirming my long-standing demon half-brother theory, it didn’t add anything to the Paranormal Activity mythos besides hokey 3D effects and seeing the demon for the first time. No, that’s not fair, it also had Mike!
Mike is the smartass character that adds some humour and levity by acting as the audience’s mouthpiece. He makes comments that I make as a viewer. Like when he’s watching Katie and Kritie channel the demon and Kristie is in the back with a pad of paper and Mike says “is she taking minutes?” Perfect comment, perfect character. Too bad the story around him is exactly the fucking same as it’s been for the past FIVE MOVIES!
Billy: The final film was honestly a bit of a let down. Effects almost killed the tension that they had learned to build up so well without seeing anything. We’re looking at Toby now straight on. Luckily, Ghost Dimension makes up for it with an amazing visual design that’s completely creepy. It’s clear that after five films of not actually seeing anything, there was money left over for when we eventually did. That is, until the final resurrection where we end up seeing Toby as a normal man. It was only his legs, but it felt so anticlimactic? The end of five teased something far more grand. This “Toby” might have been Tobias Funke for all I saw. Well excuuuuuuuse me.
I do love Mike as much as Amelia does, if not more, and I’m once again glad to root for characters I actually give a damn about rather than complete assholes who I’m crossing my fingers to see killed. My one true, legitimate gripe with Paranormal Activity 6 is that we did not need that guy with the ponytail teaching Katie and Kristi as children. His presence ruined the feminine energy of the franchise and made the coven feel more like a cult. It goes to show you that you don’t really want answers in this sort of story. Loose ends are something to be grabbed onto by the fanbase, not tidied up by the creators.
One and a half demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity
Half a demon out of ten for Paranormal Activity 2
Three demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity 3
Six demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity 4
Five demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity 5
Four and a half demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity 6
My reasoning behind all these scores? Paranormal Activity is boring and I hate Micah. Paranormal Activity 2 is boring and I hate the baby and the father. Paranormal Activity 3 is boring but I like Dennis so I threw it a small bone. Paranormal Activity 4 has likeable characters and has switched up the formula enough to be the most enjoyable of the bunch. Paranormal Activity 5 goes back to chasing its own tail but the ending is worth it. Paranormal Activity 6 had Mike in it and I want Mike to come to my house and use his awesome, sarcastic commentary skills to mock the first five movies with me!
Two demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity
Two and a half demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity 2
Five demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity 3
Seven and a half demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity 4
Six demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity 5
Five demons out of ten for Paranormal Activity 6
Overall, this franchise holds up better than I thought it would. Taken individually, each film definitely drags. But those last five minutes in every movie are solidly surprising and gripping. To my surprise, I had the best experience in the fourth and fifth outings. Do not watch these films back to back. Seriously. The pacing works in small doses, but in a full 9 hour marathon, that becomes a soul-killing experience. We had to take a break after Paranormal Activity 3 because of how drained we were. But as the big horror franchise of the past decade, I’d say Paranormal Activity is worthy of the legacy that franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, and Saw carved out before.